Mike Johnston

WHL hammers Winterhawks for undisclosed “player benefit violations”


The Portland Winterhawks are being punished for what the Western Hockey League calls a “series of player benefit violations which have occurred over the past four seasons.”

The league announced today that the Winterhawks will be barred from participating in the first five rounds of the 2013 bantam draft and will forfeit their first-round picks in the following four drafts.

GM/head coach Mike Johnston has also been suspended for the balance of the 2012-13 season, plus the playoffs.

In addition, the organization has been fined $200,000.

“Our independent investigation in this case revealed there were multiple violations over an extended period for player benefits that are not permitted under WHL Regulations and were not disclosed to the WHL,” said league commissioner Ron Robison in a statement.

“It should also be noted through the course of the investigation there was no evidence of any payments or enhanced education benefits provided to players that would be contrary to WHL Regulations as previous media reports indicated.”

No specifics of the violations were disclosed in the announcement; however, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that the league’s investigation did not uncover any “irregularities” with regards to the club’s recruitment and acquisition of top prospect Seth Jones.

The sanctions come in the wake of a dramatic turnaround for the Winterhawks. When Johnston took over early in 2008-09, he inherited a team that had won just 47 games in the previous three seasons. Fast forward to the present and the team is coming off back-to-back appearances in the WHL finals.

Recent first-round NHL picks out of Portland:

2010: Ryan Johansen, 4th overall by Columbus
2010: Nino Niederreiter, 5th overall by NY Islanders
2011: Sven Baertschi, 13th overall by Calgary
2011: Joe Morrow, 23rd overall by Pittsburgh
2012: Derrick Pouliot, 8th overall by Pittsburgh

Update (4:25 p.m. ET):

The club has released a statement outlining the violations that it’s been found to have committed.

—- A player contract signed in 2009, involving flights for the player’s family and a summer training program
—- Over the last five years, seven families were provided flights 2-4 times per season based on financial need and their distance from Portland
—- Twice in the last five years the team paid for two players to each have a one-week summer training regimen
—- The Winterhawks provided a cell phone for its team captain for a period of three seasons

Not surprisingly, the club feels the punishment is overly harsh.

“After fully cooperating with the league’s investigation, we were extremely surprised at the excessive nature of the sanctions, and we don’t feel they are in line with the scope of the violations we were found to have committed,” Johnston said in the release.

“We believe that apart from recruiting trips and parents’ weekend, there is no prohibition in the rules governing flights for players’ parents, which were the majority of the infractions. We are currently exploring our options on how we will proceed. Despite our objections, the league has made its decision, and our players will continue to pursue the goal of winning a WHL championship.”

Image of Mike Johnston via winterhawks.com

Despite poor start, Elliott ‘will find his game very soon,’ says former teammate Jake Allen

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 12:  Goalie Brian Elliott #1 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Edmonton Oilers on October 12, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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OK. So, Brian Elliott isn’t off to a good start in net for the Calgary Flames.

He has lost all three of his starts. He’s allowed 14 goals with a save percentage of only .839. Not good. Not good at all, especially considering the Flames acquired Elliott with the hopes of addressing their goaltending concerns from previous seasons.

Chad Johnson has instead started three of the last four games for Calgary.

Whether it’s Elliott or Johnson in net, the Flames have given up the most goals against in the league, while giving up 30.2 shots against per 60 minutes at five-on-five. That puts them 18th in the league at even strength.

But despite Elliott’s difficult start, a former Blues teammate of his has voiced support for the 31-year-old puck stopper, optimistically stating that a turnaround will happen.

“I wouldn’t worry one bit. That’s just my perspective,” Blues goalie Jake Allen told the Calgary Herald. “He’s one of the most competitive people I have ever met, and he will find his game very soon.

“Obviously, he wanted to get off to a good start (in Calgary), that’s first and foremost, but if it doesn’t go that way, he will rebound and find it. I’m 100 (per cent) about that. I wouldn’t be too concerned if I was a Flames fan.”

That’s reassuring. Maybe.

Elliott enjoyed five strong seasons in St. Louis, playing alongside Allen for three of those seasons. But St. Louis was — and still is — a very structured team under head coach Ken Hitchcock, which certainly bodes well for goalies.

It’s still very early in Elliott’s tenure in Calgary, which also has a new head coach in Glen Gulutzan.

The coach will have an interesting decision coming up next week, with the Flames making a quick two-game stop in the Central Division. They’ll face the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday and the Blues the following night.

Elliott didn’t get a chance to face his old team Saturday. Perhaps he’ll get that opportunity in St. Louis on Tuesday.

Video: Parise becomes third Minnesota-born NHL player to score 300 goals

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 08:  Zach Parise #11 of the Minnesota Wild celebrates his goal against the Colorado Avalanche as the Avalanche held a 3-1 lead in the second period at Pepsi Center on October 8, 2015 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Zach Parise on Sunday scored his 300th career NHL goal, a milestone that puts him in rare company.

Parise got the Wild on the board early in the second period versus the New York Islanders, becoming only the third Minnesota-born player to reach 300 career NHL goals.

As per the Wild, Parise joins Dave Christian, who scored 340 goals and 773 points in 1,009 career games, and defenseman Phil Housley, who scored 338 goals and 1,232 points in 1,495 games.

Parise added goal No. 301 of his career later in the second period.

Spoiler alert: Oilers shut out Jets to win the Heritage Classic

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23:  Darnell Nurse #25 of the Edmonton Oilers beats Connor Hellebuyck #37 of the Winnipeg Jets during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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There was no miracle comeback this time for the Winnipeg Jets. No heroics from highly touted rookie Patrik Laine.

Puck drop at the 2016 Heritage Classic at Investors Group Field was delayed due to glare from the sun. When the game did begin, the Jets couldn’t get anything going, falling behind in the second period against the visiting Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers leave Winnipeg with a 3-0 victory.

It started with Mark Letestu opening the scoring with a short-handed goal after a mistake from Dustin Byfuglien at the Edmonton blue line.

The Oilers continued to ruin the party with a goal from Darnell Nurse — in the box when Letestu scored — just 1:46 later. And Zack Kassian made it that much more difficult for the Jets to come back with another second-period goal for Edmonton. Three goals in just about eight minutes and it was game over.

The Jets’ record falls to 2-3 — a slow start that puts them at the bottom of a very difficult Central Division.

And their schedule likely won’t do them any favors, either, with home-and-home sets against Dallas and Washington, not to mention some back-to-back games on the road.

Meanwhile, the Oilers have had a completely different start to their season.

A week ago, head coach Todd McLellan blistered his team for a brutal performance on home ice against the Buffalo Sabres. Goalie Cam Talbot wasn’t good at all, allowing a goal from center ice.

A distant memory, it seems. Talbot stopped all 31 shots he faced for the shut out Sunday.

The message from that effort versus Buffalo — the lone blemish on Edmonton’s schedule so far — seems to have been received from the Oilers.

They went on to beat Carolina and St. Louis, and then they took control of Sunday’s contest in the middle period and didn’t give Winnipeg anything from there.

Wait, what? Letestu’s short-handed goal opens the scoring in Heritage Classic

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 03: Mark Letestu #55 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 3, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Oilers shutout the Flyers 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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With a power play in the second period, the Winnipeg Jets had a good opportunity to take the lead on home ice in the Heritage Classic.

But instead, it was the Edmonton Oilers cashing in.

Mark Letestu opened the scoring with a short-handed goal, beating Connor Hellebuyck on the glove side on a breakaway after Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien whiffed on the puck at the blue line.

Letestu took advntage. That’s his second goal of the season, both coming on the penalty kill.

The Oilers were able to further silence the crowd in Winnipeg, as Darnell Nurse, right out of the penalty box, buried a Connor McDavid pass just 1:46 after Letestu’s goal.